News Roundup and Notes: November 5, 2015

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Democrat lawmakers have expressed concern over President Obama’s strategy in Syria, particularly his decision last week to send Special Forces to assist in the fight against ISIS. Kristina Peterson and Carol E. Lee report. [Wall Street Journal]

Russia has sent anti-aircraft missiles to Syria to stem the risk of attacks against its fighter jets, the commander of the Russian Air Force has said. [Al Jazeera America]

The US and regional allies plan to send increased shipments of weapons and other supplies to assist Syrian opposition rebels hold their ground in fighting there, US officials said. [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous]

Moscow and Tehran are not to be trusted to engage in international diplomatic efforts to reach a political resolution to the Syrian conflict due to their direct military intervention on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, says the leader of the country’s Syrian National Coalition opposition group. [The Guardian’s Ian Black]

Syrian opposition rebels have captured a town from government forces in the west of the country following heavy fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rebels report. [Reuters]

The Syrian government is responsible for tens of thousands of enforced disappearances since 2011, a campaign that is a crime against humanity, according to Amnesty International. [Reuters]

There is no “viable option” for establishing a safe zone in Syria for civilians and opposition rebels, State Department officials told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and partner military forces carried out six strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Nov. 3. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further 19 air strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

EGYPT

The UK said that there was a “significant possibility” Sinai Province, the Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate, downed a Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board. Britain suspended all flights to and from Sharm al-Sheikh airport yesterday, concerned that a bomb caused the flight to crash. [Reuters’ Paul Sandle]

US officials did not disagree with the UK assessment, though neither the UK or the US has a formal role in the investigation team that includes representatives from Russia, Germany, France and Ireland. [Wall Street Journal‘ Jenny Gross et al; CNN’s Barbara Starr and Catherine E. Shoichet]

Moscow says that theories about the cause of the crash are “speculation” at this point. [BBC]

Live updates on the situation are available from the Guardian and the BBC.

The British assessment does not have a “single piece of definitive evidence” to back it up, writes Clive Irving. [The Daily Beast]

If ISIS was responsible, it would constitute an escalation in their tactics, though the attacks would “remain nonetheless within a local context, rather than a global one,” as the Russians are a target due to their Syria intervention, “not because of their actions outside this theatre,” opines Jason Burke. [The Guardian]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

UK Home Secretary Theresa May published a draft Investigatory Powers Bill yesterday; containing proposals for a major overhaul of Britain’s spying powers.

The sweeping powers contained in the bill have triggered alarm, despite the initially broad political welcome the draft received. Patrick Wintour and Alan Travis provide the details. [The Guardian]

Britain’s MI5 has secretly collected huge quantities of data about UK phone calls to search for terrorist connections over the last decade, it emerged as Theresa May unveiled the draft bill yesterday. [BBC]

The bill remains a concern for “privacy advocates because of its massive surveillance authorities and vague language and loopholes,” explains Jenna McLaughlin at The Intercept.

The Economist comments on the bill, opining that it “leans on the side of the spies,” and the “crusts thrown to civil-rights campaigners crumble on closer examination.” “[T]he government has decided to speak for its intelligence agencies, who cannot speak for themselves.”

“Despite the fearmongers, Britain faces no threat to its territory or political stability, nothing that remotely justifies the massive intrusion into privacy originally sought by GCHQ and the police,” argues Simon Jenkins at the Guardian.

IRAN

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard hacked email and social media accounts of Obama administration officials in recent weeks, cyberattacks thought to be linked to the arrest in Tehran of an American-Iranian businessman, officials say. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

Iran will work to the timetable laid out by President Hassan Rouhani in implementing the nuclear accord, fulfilling its commitment in time to have sanctions lifted by the end of the year, the country’s nuclear chief said. [Reuters]

Yesterday marked the 36th anniversary of the US Embassy takeover in Tehran, an event marked by growing tensions between hard-liners and those that oppose them over how much Iran will change following the implementation of the nuclear accord, reports Brian Murphy. [Washington Post]

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke has taken charge of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay as its new prison commander, reports Carol Rosenberg. [Miami Herald]

President Obama’s nominee for the secretary of the Army is being placed on hold by Kansas Sen Pat Roberts in order to prevent the White House from taking executive action to close the detention facility and move prisoners to the US. [AP’s Deb Riechmann]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

UN special representative to Libya, Bernardino León was offered a highly-paid job by the UAE, a nation that supports one side of the civil war that León has been negotiating the end of, the Guardian has discovered, reports Randeep Ramesh.

The recent US airstrikes on the MSF hospital in Kunduz, “raise questions about the quality and reliability of the intelligence that Afghan security forces are providing” to their US partner, as well as American “decisions to act on that intelligence,” writes Sudarsan Raghavan. [Washington Post]

The Defense Department’s former Russia policy expert worked behind the scenes in an attempt to get the Obama administration to adopt a harder line with Moscow, but was overruled. Evelyn Farkas stepped down from her post on Friday. [Politico’s Austin Wright] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security